Monday, February 06, 2006

Hamas Victory - the Artificial Sweep (Stuart Elliott)

Stuart Elliott, writing in his New Appeal to Reason blog, usefully pointed out that the results of the recent Palestinian elections may convey a misleading impression about Hamas's support among the voters. Hamas apparently won 74 seats out of 132, versus 45 for Fatah and a total of 13 for smaller parties and independents. Hamas's 74 seats are about 56% of the total, which suggests that they won an absolute majority of the votes. In fact, it appears that they won a plurality of about 45% of the popular vote (which is bad enough, but not quite a decisive majority).
These were the preliminary results (as of Friday, January 27 ):
Hamas's stunning victory and the lopsided Parliament are in large part the result of an electoral system that clearly gives results even more disproportionate than the US or Canadian First-Past-The-Post system.
The Palestinian system featured two tiers (1) multi-member districts and (2) a national proportional list. The multi-member districts reward parties with greater discipline and punish ticket-splitting. More than 100 Fatah members ran as independents and there were several smaller lists which appealed to Fatah voters
Hamas has won apparently 76 seats, Fatah 43, and other parties and independents 13.
Here are the national proportional results which give a far different picture of public opinion in Palestine.

Hamas 434,817 (30 seats)
Fatah Movement 403,458 (27 seats)
Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa (PFLP) 41,671 (3 seats)
The Alternative 28,779 (coalition of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian People's Party, and the Palestinian Democratic Union Party) (2 seats)
Independent Palestine (Mustafa Barghouti) 26,554 (2 seats)
The Third Way 23,513 (2 seats)

(Doesn't include votes for lists that didn't make the threshold.)
The final results from the Palestinian Central Elections Commission convey essentially the same picture, though in the end Fatah picked up two seats, one for its national list (for a final total of 28 vs. Hamas's 29) and one for a district seat. The Hamas 'landslide' was produced by its disproportionate share of the seats from multi-member districts.
Stuart Elliott added in a follow-up e-mail message (2/4/06):
It is quite possible that Hamas received only a plurality of votes for the district seats as well. It's hard to tell because of the multi-member nature of the district voting and because some of the independents may have been de facto Hamas candidates.
During a conference call Thursday arranged by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Rafi Dajani, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, said that the official Fatah candidates lost 100,000 votes to Fatah members running as independents.
I don't know if its representative or not, but the results in the 6-member first district are interesting, the only one I've had the time to add up. Six Fatah candidates got a total of 45,475 votes. Four Hamas candidates got 58,054. And independents and others got 66,390 votes. All 4 candidates on Hamas' "Change and Reform" were elected, while Fatah got 2 seats which were set aside for the top Christian candidates.
There were 6 set aside seats for Christians. If I understand correctly, there were not separate voters lists by religion. Where a Christian seat was set aside, the Christian candidate with the most votes, which could have come form Muslims or Christians, was elected regardless of where they stood in the overall total.
It is clear that the structure of the election process exaggerated the decisiveness of the Hamas victory. This is something worth knowing, and it certainly affects how we should interpret the results.
On the other hand, we should not feel overly reassured, either. In many cases throughout the Arab world, the key point about the Islamist parties and movements is not that they command the support of a clear majority, but rather that they are the only ones with real political dynamism, enthusiastic popular support, and practical idealism. Their opponents, on the other hand, rely primarily on patronage, control of the repressive state apparatus, and political inertia. It would be logical for the Palestinian political situation to fit this pattern.
Furthermore, I notice that 3 seats (and 4% of the national-list vote) went to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has always been a "secular" organization--in a quasi-Marxist way--but also a solidly rejectionist one with a long history of terrorism against civilians. So the PFLP's 3 seats (and 4%) should be added to the rejectionist/terrorist camp, though not the Islamist camp. The same is probably true for some of the other minor-party seats.
At all events, it is useful to realize that Hamas did not actually receive the support of a decisive majority of Palestinian voters in this election. But this fact may or may not be crucial in the long run if there are no credible political alternatives--and that remains be the most important question.
--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. A further update from Stuart Elliott (2/6/06):
I set up a spread sheet and added up the district votes.

Fatah Candidates 1,731,967 (36.2%)
Change and Reform (Hamas ) 1,930,203 (40.4%)
Independent and minor 1,117,307 (23.4%)

There were two districts where Hamas didn't field a full slate and four independents were elected with votes that seemed to closely mirror the votes for the Hamas slate.
If the vote for those candidates is attributed to Hamas, these are the totals

Fatah 1,731,967 (36.2%)
Hamas 2,125,241 (44.5%)
Independent 922,269 (19.3%)

There were other districts where Hamas fielded an incomplete slate; some of the independent candidates may have been "stealth" Hamas candidates. [....]
Examples of misreporting
New York Times
"And on Wednesday, Palestinians voted almost two to one to put Hamas in charge of running their government."
Don Wylcliff, Chicago Tribune Columnist
"Sixty percent of the Palestinian voters in last week's election voted for Hamas."
Charles Krauthammer
"By a landslide, the Palestinian people have chosen these known stances: rejectionism, Islamism, terrorism, rank anti-Semitism and the destruction of Israel in a romance of blood, death and revolution."
Stuart Elliott